The elected officials and bureaucrats at St. Petersburg City Hall who love spending your tax money on grandiose public projects have another bright idea. This one would require homeowners to spend thousands of dollars out of their own pockets by forcing them to add solar panels if they replaced their roof. Anyone who thinks such government interference is a good idea has been out in the sun too long.
Renewable energy is great, and theoretically there is a sound argument to be made for rooftop solar. While the up-front cost can be considerable — one figure used by city officials at a public meeting Wednesday night was $21,000 — a consumer could potentially more than break even over time. For some homeowners, it likely is financially smart to invest in solar energy and rewarding to contribute to reducing their carbon footprint.
That doesn't mean local government should require solar panels on every new house or that homeowners add solar when they need a new roof. This type of government intrusion gives progressive causes a bad name.
In a city such as St. Petersburg that already has an affordable housing problem, there is no scenario where this makes sense. If the cost of installing solar is rolled into a 30-year mortgage, lower electric bills may mean that one day the math works in the homeowner's favor. But that's little consolation for families struggling to afford a house and qualify for a mortgage today. Government should be about making it easier to own your own home, not harder.
Second, imagine a homeowner saving a little aside each month to afford a new $10,000 roof, only to discover the price is more than double with solar panels. Does that mean she should live with a leaking roof because she can't afford solar? What does that do to home values and aesthetics? Certifications and studies to determine the feasibility of solar panels on every roof would increase the cost and be an unnecessary expense for homeowners who would have to prove they do not have enough roof space or access to sunlight to warrant panels.
Third, technology is rapidly evolving. There might soon be a day when solar shingles will be affordable enough to make the bulky panels unnecessary. Why would the city force people to invest in a product that might soon be outdated?
It's obvious why only one other city in Florida, much smaller South Miami, has taken this approach. And even there the ordinance hasn't taken effect and would apply only to new homes. How requiring solar panels when roofs are replaced got even this far in St. Petersburg suggests some dim bulbs in the Sunshine City.
There's still hope sanity will prevail. City Council chair Darden Rice, a huge supporter of green initiatives, sounds lukewarm on requiring solar panels and is expected next week to move to delay any decision for a year. A spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman, who insisted on adding $2.3 million in solar panels to the $85 million police station/firing range project, says the mayor is committed to transitioning to clean energy but does not want to "dictate'' anything at this point. How about dictating some common sense? Kriseman's sustainability coordinator and other city staff have spent enough time on this foolishness. No wonder state legislators are so keen on telling local governments what they can't do.
Encouraging residents to install solar energy is fine. So is providing incentives for residents to add solar energy. But this is a decision for homeowners, not city government. Requiring the installation of solar panels on new homes and new roofs goes too far — and any elected official who supports such overregulation should get burned.